Duquesne's Everhart has history with West Virginia's Huggins
Late in the 1970s, when he was about 15, not much stopped Ron Everhart from making the 20-mile trip from his family's home in Fairmont, W.Va., to Morgantown to see the West Virginia basketball team play.
No ride? No big deal.
"I'd hitchhike up there and end up finding a ride with somebody," said Everhart, now Duquesne's coach. "I never worried about that. I'd always catch a ride somehow."
A place to stay? Well, if he decided to spend the night, he would figure that one out after he arrived there. After all, he knew some of the players -- one really well -- and crashing on a dorm room floor was palatial enough to a 15-year-old kid.
• Game: Duquesne (6-2) vs. No. 6 West Virginia (5-0), 7 p.m., WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, W.Va.
• TV, radio, Internet: FSN Pittsburgh; KQV-AM (1410) and GoDuquesne.com.
• Duquesne: Coming off a 58-44 win Saturday against Savannah State. ... Last season, West Virginia held Duquesne scoreless for the first 7:10 of the second half, erasing an eight-point deficit to win, 68-63.
• West Virginia: Has not played a regular-season game since Nov. 29, although the Mountaineers had a scheduled exhibition game Saturday against Charleston. ... No team has scored more than 66 points against the Mountaineers this season. ... Is 45-2 at home against non-conference teams in the past seven seasons, including 26 wins in a row.
• Hidden stat: Duquesne hasn't defeated a top-10 team on the road since a 73-72 victory March 5, 1962, against No. 6 Bradley.
"If I didn't catch a ride back, or if the weather got bad or something, I'd just sleep on Huggs' floor," Everhart said. "It was no big deal. His family is from Morgantown, we knew all the same people, our families knew each other, and he kind of looked out for me."
"Huggs" was -- and still is -- Bob Huggins.
West Virginia's current coach turned from one of the most ferocious players West Virginia has ever had -- who played, and was a captain, on those teams Everhart used to hitchhike to Morgantown to watch -- to a coach who, at age 56, is approaching 650 career wins and is in his third season guiding the Mountaineers.
And all the while, through all these years, he has been the same "Huggs" to Everhart.
"Not only is he a friend of mine, but he's a guy I respect and admire tremendously," Everhart, 47, said. "And he is just a genuinely good human being, but is also one of the toughest [competitors] you'd ever want to meet."
Everhart and his Dukes (6-2) will see it firsthand tonight, when Duquesne travels to Morgantown -- and the coach doesn't have to hitchhike this time -- to play No. 6 West Virginia (5-0) in one of the sternest non-conference games Duquesne has had in recent memory. The Mountaineers have won 26 consecutive contests against non-conference opponents at the WVU Coliseum.
It will mark the fourth time Everhart coaches against Huggins. In 1995, Everhart's McNeese State team lost at Cincinnati, when Huggins guided the Bearcats. The past two seasons, with Everhart at Duquesne and Huggins at West Virginia, the Mountaineers have triumphed against the Dukes.
"Ronnie used to thumb to Morgantown to games," Huggins said. "I remember him staying afterwards at my place a couple times. We've come a long way, though. I think, now, this Duquesne team he coaches is taking on Ron's personality. They compete, they play hard, and they have bought into something that Ron is teaching them. That is critical. I just hope when he comes to Morgantown this time my team can beat his."
Everhart is certain pulling off an upset will be a tough task. The Mountaineers are ranked as high as they have been since February 1982, and are experiencing an upswing under Huggins -- something that Everhart knows isn't a coincidence.
"It is because he demands accountability at any cost," Everhart said. "He is never going to settle, and that is something that, for a lot of years, I have seen in him as a coach that I first saw in him as a player."
There is one memory Everhart holds onto as evidence of Huggins not settling to be second best, and it comes from those times when, as a teenager, he would go to West Virginia games. After Huggins would play in games, and often win a hard-fought Eastern Eight matchup, it was still not good enough. Everhart would somehow end up being the de facto rebounder for Huggins and teammate Warren Baker as the two went through a shooting drill.
It could last an hour or more -- after a game.
"And as a rebounder, if I threw him a bad pass, something that wasn't perfect, Bobby wouldn't shoot it," Everhart remembers. "He would throw it back at me, and hard. Not to me, at me. And he'd say, 'Ronnie, get me the basketball, come on, you're better than that.' It just showed how much he never settled for being second best and he didn't want the people around him to settle for being second best, even back then. It is something he obviously still carries with him."
It isn't just through Huggins' successes on the basketball floor that Everhart derives a sense of how to persevere. In actuality, some of the things Huggins has been through, away from basketball, are what Everhart looks at most when he thinks about Huggins.
There is that September 2002 massive heart attack Huggins had at Pittsburgh International Airport, and a span in Huggins' life where he had to deal with the deterioration of his mother's health. She eventually died of colon cancer in 2003.
"There are a lot of people who don't understand that Bob was by his mom's side for a long battle with cancer and he, himself, had open-heart surgery and was dead on the [operating room] table. He was brought back to life," Everhart said.
"He has been through a whole hell of a lot, and I think that's what I most admire about him. There are a lot of things people see when the TV lights come on, and all the things easily visible when someone is in the public eye. But there's a lot more to it, the things that friends just talk about that other people don't know. What this man has had to overcome, and how he remains so focused on being successful, I think that's something I take away most from him."
First Published December 9, 2009 12:00 am